Rising to the challenge: how I’m beating blood cancer
When she’s not hiking or rock-climbing, our researcher Rebecca Austin is pushing herself in other ways as she works to find new treatment options for leukaemia patients.
This week, we announced Rebecca’s is one of several exciting new research projects we’re going to be funding. So we put her under the microscope with a few questions. Are we close to a cure? Who inspires her? What has been the single biggest cancer breakthrough in the last decade? Rebecca reveals all…
How long have you been working in research?
I completed my honours project in 2011 and then worked as a research assistant from 2012-2013. I started my PhD in March 2014.
Why did you choose to become a medical researcher?
Medical research appealed to me because the field is constantly evolving. It is exciting to be on at the forefront of novel discoveries.
What would surprise people to know about your work as a researcher?
The immune system has been shown to play an important role in the control of cancer progression. Immunotherapies that boost the immune system to recognise leukemic cells may present the next big opportunity to successfully treat leukaemia patients.
What do you find exciting about your work?
Understanding novel mechanisms in leukaemia that will hopefully lead to new treatment strategies for leukaemia patients.
What would you like to achieve through your research?
Through my research I would like to further understand the heterogeneity of acute myeloid leukaemia and identify new molecular and immune targets that can be used to develop personalised treatments for patients.
How close are we to discovering a cure for blood cancer?
I think that cure is a very strong word. This is very hard to predict. What I can say however is that researchers all around the world are working very hard to discover new treatment strategies. Many novel treatments are undergoing clinical trials at the moment and we are excited to find out the clinical benefits to patients.
What do you think has been the single biggest breakthrough in your field in the last decade?
In the cancer immunotherapy field, I would say that the single biggest breakthrough would be the use of Ipilimumab to treat melanoma patients. This immunotherapy has increased survival of melanoma patients where previously there were no effective treatment strategies. This success story provides hope for the use of immunotherapies to treat blood cancer patients.
Have you been inspired by anyone in the research field?
My supervisor Dr Steven Lane and my associate supervisor Prof Mark Smyth are both inspiring researchers.
Steve was originally trained as a haematologist (and still works in the clinic) but chose to focus his time on investigating new treatments for patients with myeloid malignancies. He is involved in clinical trials at the Royal Brisbane Hospital for patients with AML and hopes to bring some of lab research to the clinic.
Prof Smyth has made some really important discoveries to show that our immune system also fights cancer cells as well as controlling infections and this is changing the way cancer is treated worldwide.
What does the Foundation’s ‘beating blood cancer with love, sweat and tears’ tagline mean to you?
Looking at the tagline from a researcher’s perspective, it means putting in a lot of hard work in the laboratory to generate good quality research that can be translated into the clinic.
Do you know anything about the work of the Leukaemia Foundation?
The Leukaemia Foundation is an irreplaceable support organisation for patients with blood cancers and their families. In addition, the Leukaemia Foundation generously supports research into blood cancers. The grant money provided to researchers is critical to be able to fund pre-clinical projects that can be translated into the clinic.
Do you know anyone who has had a blood cancer?
Yes, the father of a friend of mine has multiple myeloma.
What do you do when you’re not working in the lab?
I enjoy being in the great outdoors – hiking, camping and rock-climbing.
We’re funding Rebecca, who is based at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, as part of our $4 million plan to beat blood cancer. Read more about the plan or support our science and help us make the breakthroughs that will save lives.